April 13, 2012
Occasionally a cartoon comes along that says it all. This one sums up my year in the office to date …
April 13, 2012
Occasionally a cartoon comes along that says it all. This one sums up my year in the office to date …
December 16, 2010
I am gussing that when my 5 year old son watches this (with his mouth open wide) will say something like … “Dad, I wanna do that!”
Wonder how many broken bones and scratches a person endures before these kinds of feats are achievable?
HT to Euan Semple for this one.
November 22, 2010
If you have my previous posts, you will be aware that I spent time working with the folks from Australia’s contemporary Circus and Physical Theatre sector. The event was called the Flashpoint Forum and was hosted by the sector’s peak body ACAPTA.
When the 2 days of Open Space was over on the Friday, everyone (26 plus a few others) came back together on Saturday. I’ll admit to feeling nervous about this day. I was asking myself questions like … “why don’t we simply continue Open Space for another day?”. Here’s a story the group created, performed and recorded in just a few hours. On the Saturday morning, the group decided they wanted to create something … a story that brought together the essence of their conversations … and product that could be shared with others in their sector.
Rewind to Wednesday …
Flashpoint started and people arrived last Wednesday afternoon. Dinner that night featured an inspired talk by Kelly O’Shannassy (CEO of Environment Victoria). Kelly’s key message was that we need to re-imagine the future, side step the barriers and move to solutions that create new systems, new ways of creating stuff and of working together. Kelly provided another dimension to our forum theme, “The World Needs Saving and Circus & Physical Theatre is the Answer”. The new dimension was about ‘re-imagining our future’ … re imagining the future of this sector to make it stronger.
After Kelly, we were all treated to the vocal and comical brilliance of Intimate Apparel.
History Trip – Once I got the group started with the ‘ways and wares’, I sat back and participants took the lead on mapping and sharing stories of Australian contemporary Circus and Physical Theatre. Everyone was completely engaged and energised by this activity and the outcome is going to become a book!
Another little harvest was a set of ‘key features’ from their history that we need to remember and carry forward into the future. I used a set of photos called Visual Explorer (CCL link here) to elicit these ideas.
Lifecycle of Emergence - You can read all about this activity in a previous blog post here.
Open Space Kick Off – You can read more about my approach to opening space here – a blog post about my teachers.
I admit to being nervous, however, the morning discussions and activities appeared to really engage the group and our theme became really clear.
This was my favourite offering to which everyone signed up in the second session …
Open Space sessions – a new depth and focus emerges in the group conversations
A summary of each concurrent session was published directly to the ACAPTA Blog here by session convenors.
Converging to the stuff that matters most – Non-convergence was used here like in this post by Chris Corrigan
A summary of each action was also published directly to the ACAPTA Blog here.
Then, after 60 second report backs from each action group, an offer came the group. A few wanted to capture their key insights from the forum – insights beyond the action topics. So, before the closing circle, we played ’35′ to capture the key insights. You can read about 35 at Viv’s blog here.
Even more performances … this sector knows how to throw a party and improvise!
Given the influx of new participants, we started by ‘re-living’ the whole forum from beginning to end.
It was clear the group wanted more conversation and this reinforced my self talk about continuing Open Space for another day. Instead, the group framed their own question and we entered a World Cafe process. The idea of creating something together emerged and the group set about creating their structure and story which became the video above.
PM – see video creation above and this post at the ACAPTA Blog.
In Sum …
The Flashpoint Forum taught me more about the concept of ‘holding space‘ than any event before. For the first time I was able to get out of the group’s way and provide a space and process to support ‘their work’. I noticed more about this group than any other I have worked with and responded in small ways to support them.
For the first time as a facilitator, I managed to STOP myself from trying to control stuff … and let the group work it out. This was true for the Open Space and for the more structured sessions. Lot’s of lessons here!
November 14, 2010
Here are some other games we played as a group on Day 1 of Open Space at the ACAPTA Flashpoint Forum in Sydney. The games were run by Dan Aubin, Artistc Director with CirKidz.
As I said in my previous post, seeing a whole group of people at a conference make room to just ‘play’ (and move other conversation topics to prioritise this) was so refreshing. I noticed a significant change in the connection between participants after this 2 hours of play – a new social-contract between people seemed to emerge.
Here is a copy/paste of Dan’s Open Space offering …
Summary of activity
Bombs and Shields: Walk around the room > without telling anyone choose a person who will be your shield > choose another person who will be your bomb > now move around the room keeping your shield directly between you and your bomb in order to stay safe > at the end of the game there is a count down and everyone freezes >identify your bomb and shield by pointing and then sit if you can draw an unprotected straight line to your bomb.
Groups of: A quickly as you can form groups of 3…7…10…2…etc
Back car (see my own detailed description of this game here) :With a partner choose a ‘car’ who will be the front and a ‘driver’ who stands behind the car. Without talking the driver uses their hands to communicates signals on the back of the car that communicate: forward, turn left, turn right and stop. When comfortable, add reverse, accelerate, a horn and any other controls you may imagine. The driver must be clear and the car must only do what is communicated to them even if that means crashing into another car. Bus addition: Form a single file line and try as a bus with the back person passing the signals through to the front. Try and sense the group and move as one bus.
One minute circle step in:With no leaders or followers the group must sense when a minute is up and collectively take one step into the centre at the same time. You must make an eye connection with each member of the circle.
Name, name, name: A circle with one person in the centre. Their objective is to say someones name three times before they can say their own name once. The circle folk are the judges. Now work on rhythm and explore creative strategy.
Group count: Verbally count with each person saying one number whenever they like. If two people speak at the same time…start again. Ouch. The object is to find out how many people are in the group.
Swords of paris: Two teams face each other. One leader steps out from each group. Group A leader present 4 sword moves so every knows them. Then the battle starts as the entire group A performs the moves in synch while group B dodges the slashes and pokes with side leans, ducks and jumps. Then it is Group B’s turn to respond. Judges may respond with a winner observing accuracy. Start simple and grow the complexity as far as you like.
It was an energized session. It was agreed that we should use games and movement exercises to focus, connect, express and play at future ACAPTA and circus community gatherings.
November 11, 2010
I am facilitating a 4 day forum (The ACAPTA Flashpoint Forum) with a great bunch of people from the world of Circus and Physical Theatre. We have people here in sydney from street performers to federal funders … trapeze acrobats to administrators.
Today in Open Space, the whole group came together for 90 minutes to simply play and share games. Viv has written about this urge here and here … for me it seemed the group was yearning to step away from the ‘intellectual’ stuff and ‘connect’ with each other in deeper and more human ways – and so they played. Tomorrow, it’s back to the conversations that matter most.
Driving Cars - the next game of Driving Buses is the progression
To warm the group to movement and action facilitator calls out to form pairs … then groups of 7 … groups of 5 etc … creates lots of movement and swapping and changing groups … end with forming pairs again
Each pair decides who will be the ‘driver’ and who will the ‘car’ – the driver stands behind the car and places his/her hands on their shoulders
The aim of the game is for the driver to develop a set of contact-gestures (without and word being spoken b/w the car and driver)
The driver needs to work out a gesture that tells the ‘car’ to: [beginning with] drive forward, stop, turn right/left … [once these have been mastered] … reverse, accelerate and finally a horn! The interesting thing here is how the driver and car have to be totally in tune with each other and been aware of all the other traffic on the road!
The facilitator also sets down some boundaries: Absolutely no verbal communication b/w car and driver (laughter is allowed!); Ensure that the pairs have ‘flow’ before moving beyond forward/stop/left/right;
BIG boundary = The gestures are NOT allowed to actually push/steer the car (in other words the driver cannot physically redirect the car by turning the shoulders in the desired direction). The physical gestures we worked out were (and variation b/w pairs was huge):
- 1 Tap on 1 shoulder – turn left or right
- squeeze shoulders with both hands – drive forward
- simultaneous tap on both shoulders – stop
- pat on the bum – honk horn (lol) … you get the picture
Once pairs have mastered driving their cars, the facilitator can then say ‘everyone speed up’ … ‘all cars need to reverse park into this space’ … etc …
Then the CAR has to close their eyes and TRUST … this really heightens the stakes and the need to work together and support each other! Also awareness across the whole room goes right up.
Then the Driver swaps with the car and has to rapidly develop a completely different set of gestures to steer the car – this is harder than it sounds … repeat steps above
Driving Buses – this is really challenging and fun!
Ask for 3 pairs of driver/cars to join up – give them 60 seconds to work out (as a group) what gestures they will use for forward/reverse/right/left/stop/accelerate/horn
Same for Cars but this time the team of 6 people stand in single file with hands on the shoulders of the person in front
This time the person at the back is a driver of a BUS and the person at the front is the BUS … everyone in between has to pass the ‘gesture’ along … and you guessed it, the BUS is really SLOW to respond to the initial instruction … it’s way harder than driving the car and results in more bumps, collisions between different buses!
Again no talking and it’s like a physical form of Chinese whispers where instructions can ‘stuff’ up between people. If the gestures are not really clear then it’s a complete disaster. Facilitator can provide a couple of time-outs to let groups rework their gestures.
Facilitator then asks the buses to weave in and out of obstacles and reverse-park into tight spaces … and whatever else you can think of.
Two other games I will describe later include a Group Name Game (yet another variation on remembering names) and a Sixth Sense Stepping game.
October 6, 2010
This cartoon by Hugh McLeod struck a poignant chord with me this morning. Just replace the word ‘fat’ with ‘injured’!
Last week I have some cartilage scraped from my right knee and it’s amazing how many fellas around me at 40 have had this done. Currently taking it easy and doing lots of gentle rehab at home. Due to the months of limping, my left knee and lower back are starting to play up too. Most say to me, “It’s just old age Geoff!”. Enter
I’m an optimist and I know I’ll be fitter and stronger than ever. I’ll no longer be running and Karate will go on hold for at least 12 months. Time to dust off the old bike (or buy a new one!) and go from traditional to Standup Paddle surfing for a while.
So yes Hugh, I do remember the time when all the old, injured guys were still older and ‘more injured’ than I.
May 26, 2010
Just realised I have passed my double century of blog posts! Here’s my 201st post featuring 3 cartoons that happen to be sitting side by side on my desktop. These cartoons are also very linked by the people around them and concepts they explore.
The first features “The Slips” (and that’s me in 3rd slip). The Slips is an international consortium of blogger and facilitators. Many of my 200 posts have featured links back to the blogs of Anne Patillio (wicket keeper), Viv McWaters (1st slip), Johnnie Moore (2nd slip) and Chris Corrigan (4th slip). Thanks to Simon Kneebone for the artwork!
The next 2 are linked around the theme of status and power. This second cartoon is from the stables of Hugh McLeod over at Gaping Void. I just love Hugh’s ability to cut through and be totally honest and blunt! As part of the The Slips, I am constantly working with the Improv principle of Yes!And – which also inspired the name and theme of my blog. When new ideas and new ways of doing things are proposed in workshops, Yes!But … can often be heard as the automatic response. And if you don’t hear it, watch and you’ll see it in the body langauge!
The last one again comes from Simon Kneebone and was drawn at the recent Show Me The Change conference. The design team for this gig happened to be The Slips (told you these pictures were linked!) and we embraced the principles of self organisation and emergence in it’s design. The other concept we brought was the notion of Keynote Listeners and Participants rather than Keynote (Expert) Speakers.
May 16, 2010
Over the past couple of weeks I have had the pleasure of playing (and working) with an “International Consortium” … of sorts. We call ourselves The Slips and we are (from 1st to 4th slip) … Johnnie Moore (UK), Viv McWaters (Australia), me (Australia) and Chris Corrigan (Canada). Without a wicket keeper we’d be useless and Anne Pattillo (NZ) takes up this position.
Together in May we worked with Swinburne Uni and Sustainability Victoria to host the Show Me The Change conference. Johnnie and Viv ran a workshop called Crumbs in Sydney and we all took part in the fringe OSonOS (Open Space on Open Space) in Melbourne.
We have been working together for some time now, however, our methods (and deliveries) have been somewhat ‘unorthodox’.
Until this May, The Slips had never been together in the 1 place at the same time. That had only ever happened on Skype. 4 of us managed to get to the 2009 Applied Improvisational Network conference in Portland, Oregan – with our 1st slip missing in action! Apart from all being facilitators, we all share a passion for applying Improv to our craft.
It now looks like The Slips will be together again in Amsterdam this September at the 2010 Applied Improv gathering. Who knows what we collaborate on together afterwards in the UK? We don’t know yet either, but, whilst we continue to learn from each other and have fun … something is bound to happen!
We came together as a results of many small offers. We build on each other’s learning through our blogs and in conversation. We inspire and support each other. On some levels we are the same – and very different. We love what we do.
To sum up, I’ll draw a great post written by Viv here.
From Viv …
We come from Australia, New Zealand, UK and Canada. We share a love of improv, are skilled facilitators, blog, use open space, are curious, adventurous and love to travel. We like to do risky, edgy work. We each have our own businesses and work, naturally, in different parts of the world. We’re generous, with what we know and what we share. We each bring different, and complementary, perspectives. We play together. We work together. We’re individuals. We’re different. We agree, we argue, we struggle, we care.
Are you seeing a theme here?
Before we worked together we were friends. Separated by oceans. Connected by ideas. Inspired by an audacious plan. We’re still friends. Maybe even better friends. Family. Love. This is what binds us. This is what makes working together a joy. This is why we’ll do it again.
April 30, 2010
I am a big fan of Hugh McLeod’s work over at Gaping Void. Today’s ‘daily cartoon’ sums up much of what I and others have been blogging about recently.
And Hugh’s words that accompany this cartoon …
“Success for me was a log time coming. It probably took three times as long than it should have, maybe. “Better late than never” and all that…
That “the world would ALWAYS conspire to make me something less than I am”, was something I learned very early, the hard way.
Fort the longest time, I was quite angry and bitter about that. I was young and stupid then, of course.
But eventually I realized, hey, it wasn’t just me. It conspires against everybody.
Knowing this allowed me to not take it personally. Not taking it personally allowed me to act.
It’s one of those lessons that in an ideal world, it should take you a minute. Instead, it often takes decades.
Again, better late than never…” Hugh McLeod
March 30, 2010
It was also my 39th birthday which means I have one more thing in common with comedian, improviser and Spicks & Specks host Adam Hills … our age. Thanks to Adam Hills (and the audience at his Mess Around gig), my 39th birthday has been my most memorable so far.
Apart from our age, Adam Hills and I share something else in common … a belief.
Throughout his Mess Around gig, Adam repeated his belief that ‘normal’ people (you and me) are way more interesting than the celebrities we adore in the media. So, his shows are more about ‘us’ than him. He used the time to have a conversation with ‘us’ (the audience) and unearthed our stories – which ended being rich, diverse and funny. He connected audience members together and created a space to work together on something. After 2 or 3 of these shows, a social movement has been created around 1 man’s effort to raise money for a charity … all this momentum and action created from nothing but a story and a belief that everyone has can contribute. Most would say that their contribution is ‘ordinary’, but combined the ordinary can lead to something special. More on that story later.
In my work with groups, I facilitate conversations between people. Some with small groups and some with large groups over a number of days. My belief is that the conversations and relationships between participants who attend workshops (or between delegates at conferences) are way more interesting than individual ‘keynote speakers’ or ‘panel members’ that we so often see on the conference circuit. Traditional conferences who worship ‘experts’ seem to have forgotten that we are a social species – where conversation and relationships are the foundation for any form of action. Even many of us (the non-experts) have fooled ourselves into the same ‘celebrity’ or ‘expert’ worship.
Back to Saturday night’s Mess Around …
If you want to follow the full story of the ‘movement’ that has emerged from Adam’s Mess Around in Melbourne, read his blog posts here. If you want a snapshot of the story in the form of a 1 minute sales pith to donate money, watch this video (and thanks to my wife Ingrid who put this together on her Mac) …
Adam Hills’ summary of the story so far …
But first, the story so far: I have decided that throughout this Festival I will do my best to make a mild-mannered IT Manager I found in my opening night’s audience as famous as possible. I want Chris Hughes to be more famous than Shiloh Jolie Pitt.
Chris only agreed to go through with it if we raised money for a charity that gives physical therapy to people with cystic fibrosis – The Simon Rhoden Foundation. At last count (bearing in mind it is only four days into the festival) we have raised over $2000. If we hit $20000 Chris will perform a strip in Federation Square on the final night of the Festival. Other audience members have offered lycra, a barbeque and to MC the strip.
There is now a viral video available at
and for higher quality
a facebook page here
And you can join in the donations here http://www.simonrhodenfoundation.org/donate.asp
What we can learn from Adam Hills?
So how does one man generate so much commitment to action AND whilst everyone is having a riotously good time? Most clients I work with only dream of seeing so many ‘transactions’ emerge from a ‘workshop’ full of strangers. But would they employ a ‘mess around’ approach to run their workshops? Here’s Adam’s description of his Mess Around series …
“Adam loves ad-libbing with the crowd. So much so that this year he’s throwing the script out the window and devoting an hour-and-a-bit to simply messing around. No script, no plan, no idea. Literally anything could happen – and if you’ve been to a Hilsy show before, you know it probably will. NO TWO SHOWS THE SAME!” Melbourne Comedy Festival website
And reference statements include …
“His interaction witht he audience proved so fruitful that they were reluctant to release him back on to the stage. 5*” The Scotsman
“An Adam Hills show is always a festival highlight … with real weight, wit and purpose behind his contagious positivity.” Chortle (UK)
Would you employ this ‘Mess Around’ approach to an upcoming workshop where you want agreed and sustainable actions and outcomes?
Ok, so I hear you saying that the context of your workshop if totally different … I understand that – people are doing ‘serious’ work and your workshop is not a performance. You are right, many things change when we shift from a Comedy Festival gig to a workshop where the stakes are high. However, many things also remain the same – people are people and relationships are still the glue that connect us into sustainable action. Here’s what I think we can learn from Adam’s Mess Around approach.
As I have already said, everyone has a story to tell. In a complex world, we need more connections between people, more spaces for more conversations and less listening to experts (we still need some of this like at TED). We need to harvest stories from our employees and conference delegates and learn from them.
We need less scripts and way less plans and time spent doing strategies. Instead, we need to get ourselves ‘prepared’ for dealing with the unexpected and uncertainty. (Viv gives a real example of being prepared here).
Weik and Sutcliffe in their book ‘Managing the Unexpected‘ also highlight some characteristics of High Reliability Organisations (organisations that have a track record of remaining resilient when the unexpected happens) For me, these characteristics share a remarkable resemblance to the principles of Improvisational Theatre and the approach Adam takes to ‘messing around’.
Wanna Save the World?
If you want to ‘save the world’, you can read about how Improv can be used to help at the Applied Improvisation Network site. Belina posted this very question and many responses have come through so far. Read about it here.
In Sum …
From where I sit, 1 thing is clear. Conversations and relationships between people and groups are the platform for collective action. Complex issues like ”adapting to climate change” are messy and complex. They are unpredictable and context specific. As a community/society we need news ways of working and being together. We need to ‘let go’ of control and learn to be more comfortable in the ‘mess’. I believe that applying Improv, and the ‘Adam Hills’ approach, is one way of getting more traction.